"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." -Kierkegaard
There is no way that I can present my story in way which will leave the reader in suspense... 30 years I lived in blissful, frustrating, irretrievable ignorance; unaware of the reasons for which I was unlike others...
It has been a bittersweet relief to receive confirmation that I am NOT like most other people... It hasn't all just been "in my head". Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) affects less than 10% of the U.S. population. So, while we can debate all day about how to define the word "normal", I can confidently say, I am NOT normal.
I have been asked by many friends lately... "What does BPD mean?"
In Dr. Jerold J. Kreisman's book, I Hate You-- Don't Leave Me, he describes individuals with BPD as "emotional hemophiliacs". When I feel, I can't seem to clot the emotion. It overwhelms me, as though I will fatally bleed out -emotionally.
The DSM IV, the Bible of psychological diagnostic materials, defines BPD with the following criteria:
1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
2. Unstable and intense interpersonal relationships.
3. Lack of clear sense of identity.
4. Impulsiveness in potentially self-dangering behaviors, such as substance abuse, sex, shop-lifting, reckless driving, binge eating.
5. Recurrent suicidal threats or gestures, or self-mutilating behaviors.
6. Severe mood shifts and extreme reactivity to situational stresses.
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
8. Frequent and inappropriate displays of anger.
9. Transient, stress-related feelings of unreality or paranoia.
Five out of nine are required to be labeled with BPD. With more severity in some than others, I meet all nine criteria. I do not shop-lift or self-mutilate. I have seriously considered and even attempted suicide. My fear of abandonment, mood swings, and the occasional broken potted plant have had very negatively impacted my relationships. I have felt like it was all out of my control for most of my life. I would keep myself in check for months at a time, hoping that I had outgrown my immature behaviors... But each time, my dark side inevitably caught up with me.
In addition to these criteria, it is common for individuals with BPD to feel an inordinate amount of empathy for others. Even as a child, I would feel upset if someone else was in pain or distress. I likewise share in pleasure and joy. However, negative emotions tend to have a heavier impact than those that are positive. They say it takes three positive emotions to replace a single negative emotion... a disparity of which I am always acutely aware.
As a result, another symptom is that I feel is the burdensome sensation that others do not understand me. Being able to feel what others feel- when they can not reciprocate the same can be quite isolating. I have a childhood memory with my mother; I am experiencing my first heartache, pointing to my chest, telling her how I want to pull the emotion out and feed it to her... So she could taste it, digest it, take it in to be a part of herself. I am explaining this to her with a genuine albeit naive curiosity, as though perhaps it is something adults learn to do eventually. I am asking her to teach me.
In the absence of telepathy or osmotic emoting, I became a precocious and articulate speaker, an avid writer. I expressed myself with art, dance, music... any medium that gave me the hope of achieving mutual empathy. Perhaps if I had devoted my education to one of these outlets, I would be happier, but I was not confident about being able to make a livelihood as an artist. Growing up in a family that depended on penny-pinching and coupon cutting, I was determined to carve a more profitable career path for myself. After I achieving a Masters degree, I was still unsatisfied. I finally allowed myself to become a musician... Music, art, and writing- Expression became compulsive, like breathing. If I do not make time for it, I become weighed down with excess emotion. This realization has lead me to the conclusion that I was given the BPD, as well as my voice, my talents in order to transcribe a map of my mind; a description of my uniquely flawed perspective... To help others like myself, looking for others to whom they can relate; To help others who love individuals with BPD, looking for hope that they can overcome the burdens of their loved ones' obsessions and challenges.
It is time. I have waited thirty years to write this story. My story. It is not glamorous. I am not famous. I am not important. I am not special. I am just another human being, being human. I was born in the middle of nowhere. I grew up inside my head, too quickly. I lived imaginary lives that never happened. The life I lived was much less interesting, but it is the one I am stuck with- When I am old and gray, waiting for death to find me, what do I want to remember? The life I wasted or the life I wanted?